Nearly five years after a tragic Venice Beach car accident, Los Angeles has agreed to put an end to several legal disputes. County lawmakers have unanimously agreed to pay as much as $14 million in damages to three families that had filed personal injury lawsuits against the government. The civil actions were in response to a fatal car accident that, some argue, could have been prevented if Los Angeles had taken certain precautions.
According to reports, a man drove his vehicle onto the Venice Beach boardwalk, killing one woman and seriously injuring more than a dozen others. Three lawsuits were subsequently filed against the County, accusing it of “failing to install sufficient barriers or take other steps to protect” individuals on the world-famous boardwalk. In agreeing to settle the lawsuits, Los Angeles County has essentially acknowledged that it could have done more to protect its citizens and guests from harm.
I Thought You Couldn’t Sue the Government?
The government generally enjoys what is known as “sovereign immunity,” which protects it from liability in lawsuits. In other words, you usually can’t sue the government. However, most states, including California, waive this immunity in certain situations. One such situation is when the government’s negligence (or negligence of one of its employees or agents) causes someone to get hurt.
The California Tort Claims Act allows injured victims (or the family members of fatally-injured victims) to file personal injury lawsuits against the government. In most cases, including those filed after the Venice Beach crash, victims will base their claim on the fact that the government is liable because of a dangerous condition on government property.
In order for a personal injury lawsuit against the government to be successful, a victim (or family member) will have to prove that:
- A dangerous condition existed on government property;
- The government knew or should have known about the dangerous condition;
- The government had reasonable time to address the problem, but failed to do so; and
- The dangerous condition is a causal factor in an injury or death.
In other words, the government is responsible for its roads, infrastructure, walkways, and public areas. If there are defects in the design of public property or if they become damaged, the government can be on the hook for damages that result if they do nothing.
The Venice Beach accident happened when a driver navigated around bollards that were installed to prevent cars from driving onto the boardwalk. The fact that the driver could steer around these barriers meant that the design was defective and was not effective in protecting pedestrians. The lawsuits filed against the government used this argument as a basis for the government’s liability. Attorneys also pointed to the fact that the County installed temporary barriers immediately after the crash as proof that the existing design was dangerous.
When Can A Victim Sue the Government?
If you want to sue the government you’ll have to follow a certain set of rules. One of these rules concerns when, where, and how you can file a personal injury lawsuit against a government agency. In typical personal injury lawsuits, victims have two years from the date of an accident to file a claim. When the government is named as a defendant, the process is accelerated. You’ll only have 180 days (6 months) to file a claim for damages.
The amount of time you have to file a claim is reduced. You’ll also have to file your claim with the agency that you claim is responsible for causing you harm. That’s right: instead of filing a claim with your local court, you’ve got to submit your request for damages with that specific government agency.
Once the agency receives your request for damages it will assess its own fault and get back to you with its response. The government has 45 days to respond. Responses can include:
- Accept liability in full
- Accept liability in part, deny liability in fault
- Deny liability in full, or
- Refuse or fail to answer.
Accept Liability: If the government accepts liability (which does not happen often), they’ll pay you and your case will be closed. No further action will be required. If it is split on liability, they will pay some of your damages, but not the others. Additional action will be required.
Deny Liability: If the government denies your claim, you will have 45 days from the date of this denial to file a traditional claim with your local court. If you do not file within 45 days you will miss your chance to recover the damages you deserve.
No Response: If the government doesn’t respond to your claim, at all, you’ll have two years to file a claim for damages with your local court.
Need More Help?
Have you been injured in a Los Angeles accident? Do you believe the city, county, or state’s negligent care for its public roadways, walkways, or parks is a contributing factor to your harm? If so, you may want to consider filing a personal injury claim against the government.
Call the Los Angeles personal injury attorneys at Joshua W. Glotzer to learn about your legal options. We offer a free consultation, so do not hesitate to call us now.